If there’s one thing you can count on Japanese video game developers for, it’s creating absolutely insane plots.
Zanki Zero: Last Beginning isn’t any exception. Part narrative adventure, part RPG and part dungeon crawler, it’s a game that will have you saying “…what?” just as often as you push the buttons of your controller.
But its far-out narrative, zany cast of characters and mysterious location are hard to resist, and once you start playing you’ll be desperate to know what’s going on.
Perhaps the best thing about Zanki Zero is that its characters are, at least to begin with, just as confused as you. The protagonist in your control as the game begins is a young man called Haruto, who finds himself washed up on a strange island following a trauma in his life. He has no idea where he is, or how he got there. He soon realises he isn’t alone – seven other characters occupy the island, each with a bold and unique personality. There’s Minamo Setouchi, a police officer, Ryo Mikajime, a “bondage artist”, Yuma Mashiro, the daughter of a millionaire, and Sachika, a young girl with a prosthetic arm and leg. Not one of them is initially sure why they’re there. Have they been kidnapped? Is it a reality TV show? Nobody’s sure. Least of all, you, the player.
What all the characters do know, though, is that an old TV set will occasionally kick in to life, presenting to them a cartoon that lays out a mission. Early missions have been about survival – gather water, find shelter, build a toilet. But as Haruto becomes accustomed to his location, those missions start to shed a little more light on what’s actually going on.
It’s not a reality TV show after all: each of the characters washed up on Zanki Zero‘s mysterious island is a clone. A clone whose ageing process has so accelerated, they only have a life span of 13 days. After 13 days, they can be reborn – or “extended” – providing someone collects the strange metal “X” that sits neatly in their belly button.
Yeah, I told you it was crazy.
As bizarre as Zanki Zero‘s plot is though, it’s delivered in such a way that you’ll be eager to find out what happens next. As new layers of story unfolds, you’ll become enveloped into the mystery. Some questions get answered, but only to open up new questions. It’s a mystery story at heart, and one that begs you to be a part of it.
I’m about four hours into my time with Zanki Zero so far, and I still have much more to experience. But I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen so far. It’s a little slow to get going, with lots of exposition, text and narration to sit through. But it’s all worth paying attention to, as the narrative and characters are extremely well written. The dungeon crawling gameplay, too, when you’re eventually given free reign is engaging, allowing you to freely explore, solve light puzzles and combat a number of weird and wonderful foes – so far they’ve mainly been goats and weird bunny-type things.
I’m already confident to say that Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is worth jumping into if you’re a fan of Spike Chunsoft games. I’m excited to play more, though, and see what other twists and turns this story is going to throw at me. Look out for a full review soon.